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It is time for Hindus and Muslims to reconcile

April 01, 2020 11:20 IST

'This Ram Navami -- the birth anniversary of Lord Ram -- presents the majority community an opportunity to shed its minority complex and offer an olive branch and discrimination- free society to the minority,' suggests Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi interacts with leaders of religious and social organisations about the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: ANI Photo

India is indeed lucky in this hour of great crisis to have a leader like Narendra Damodardas Modi, who is decisive and enjoys huge popular support. Yet, a concerted campaign against him carried out for decades still paints him as a 'Hindu' leader.

The tragedy of the 2002 riots is invoked to malign him while it is never acknowledged that the same Mr Modi ensured peace when multiple bomb blasts on July 26, 2008 killed over 50 people and injured 200! The sad part is that a large portion of minority Muslim citizens have been brainwashed to hate him.

A divided country cannot effectively fight the looming existential challenge to us and the mankind.

While the attention of the whole country is focussed on fighting the imminent danger posed by the coronavirus, we cannot afford to ignore the other virus -- the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims, particularly in the northern part of our country.

Unless we can come to terms with this problem, our dream of becoming a 5 trillion dollar economy and a developed country will remain just that -- a dream.

Hindutva, as perceived in parts of north India, fits the famous description of Stanley Tambiah, a Harvard anthropologist, who had described the Sinhalese as a 'majority with a minority complex' -- fearing domination by Sri Lanka's minority Tamils.

As someone who studied the whole gamut of the Sri Lanka/Tamil issue for the Government of India from 1993 to 1995, one sees a great similarity in the tragedy that put back Sri Lanka by 20 years with the current happenings in India.

The cardinal mistake made by the Sinhalas was to rig up the system in such a way as to deny the Tamils higher education and jobs under the garb of Sinhala language only policy. The Tamils on the other hand were not merely satisfied with 'equal' rights, but also wanted equal status to the Tamil language and culture at par with the majority.

This brings me to the current flashpoint between the two major communities of India, the Citizenship Amendment Act. I recall an incident 20 years ago, in April 2000 to be precise. I was on a lecture tour of the US and Canada sponsored by the Government of India to put across our point of view on Kashmir and the nuclear issue.

In Chicago, I met a former Pakistan army officer who had migrated to the US. On being asked why this Christian officer had quit a cushy job, he answered that as a father of two daughters and a Christian, he feared for their future and had no choice but to leave. This was 20 years ago and the situation has deteriorated much more since then.

The fact is that non-Muslims in Pakistan and in Bangladesh under military regimes suffered persecution. But where the CAA erred was that it excluded other minorities like Hazara Shias, Ahmediyyas and Ismailis.

Statistically, the Shias and Ahmediyyas are at even greater risk of persecution than other minorities. But the opponents of the CAA have never raised this issue. Instead, they see it as an insult to Islam.

In reality, the anti-CAA agitation is not about the CAA at all. The motivation for it goes back to the Ayodhya verdict, the triple talaq law and even the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir.

A vast majority of Hindus see the Ayodhya verdict as rectifying a historical wrong.

As to the ban on triple talaq, the measure is at par with the stringent Anti-Dowry Act, nobody calls that anti-Hindu.

Doing away with Article 370 is more symbolic than substantive since Kashmir's 'special status' was hollowed out much earlier. The abolition of Article 370 is more psychological in effect as it shuts out forever the possibility of Kashmir ever seceding or joining Pakistan, a sort of 'closure'.

The real issues that confront Indian Muslims have to do with the social discrimination that the community suffers. As 20% of the population, its representation in the political and administrative structure is woeful.

As a majority of Muslims are in business or self-employed, they also bore the disproportionate brunt of demonetisation.

These are the real issues that confront the community and not the imagined insult to their faith. But by taking a confrontationist attitude on emotional issues, the community has lost the sympathy of the vast majority who are not Islamphobes.

By taking up s confrontational attitude over emotional issues the Muslim community has lost out on real issues.

Many of us are aware that during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's rule, an attempt was made to affect a grand Hindu Muslim reconciliation. Closed door talks between community leaders took place in Bengaluru. Unfortunately, these efforts failed as some political parties saw a confrontation to their advantage.

After the judicial verdict, Hindus have got possession of Lord Ram's birthplace. It is time that the majority community offers a hand of friendship to Muslims in the spirit of Lord Ram.

Colonial historiography since the 1920s have painted a picture of perennial Hindu-Muslim conflict. This is a false picture as my study of Maratha history revealed.

It is well known that Ibrahim Khan nearly won the Third battle of Panipat for the Marathas. The heroic resistance of Muslim soldiers of the Maratha army at Malegaon in 1818 is well recorded.

According to the British general staff publication, the famous battle of the Bhima Koregaon of 1818 was a fight mainly between the 'Arab' musket wielding soldiers of the Marathas and the British.

In a lesser known episode, the garrison of Muslim soldiers of the Peshwa's wife Varanasibai at Raigad fort defended her to the last. Even the Rani of Jhansi was defended to the last by her Muslim bodyguards.

In the 19th century, before the British divide and rule policy came into effect, the Indian political scene had evolved on a regional basis where faith did not divide the country. That 'credit' goes to modern leaders who conjured up the religion-based tate of Pakistan.

The Indian reality is that every sixth citizen is a Muslim. The country can neither fight the coronavirus effectively nor become a superpower unless it resolves the majority-minority issue.

This Ram Navami -- the birth anniversary of Lord Ram -- presents the majority community an opportunity to shed its minority complex and offer an olive branch and discrimination- free society to the minority.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a military historian.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)